D.C. Has a $400M Budget Surplus

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By C.N. Staff Writer

In late December, the District’s Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi announced that the District has a $400 million dollar surplus for the 2012 fiscal year.  In 2011 the city ended the fiscal year with a $240 million budget surplus.

While the office of Gandhi says they are awaiting final numbers from auditors, news of the surplus is setting the stage for questions about how the money should be spent.  Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans (D) is the head of the Finance and Revenue Committee.  He says that he would like to see some of the money spent on the city’s police and fire departments because they have not had raises in years.

However, Mayor Vincent Gray (D) is expected to suggest the money go into the city’s reserve account, where the city could turn in the case of an emergency, but reportedly only two-thirds.  This would add to the $200 million the city put into the reserve account from the 2011 fiscal year.

The surplus comes from the spending cuts by D.C. agencies by about $100 million dollars.  The D.C. council has a “wish list” of dozens of projects across the city that the money could potentially be used for and the director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, Ed Lazare, says putting the money to projects that will better the quality of life for city residents could be the best option.  Lazare said saving the money could be a “wasted opportunity.”   Among the council’s wish list include $7 million for homelessness services, $14.7 million for support welfare programs and $9.5 million for educational support.

The District has already banked $1.2 billion dollars in cash reserves and will add this year’s surplus to its coffers.  In Mayor Gray’s State of the District address on February 5th he stated that the sum of the money would go into the city’s reserves.  However, many residents would like to see the money go towards housing.

In a meeting held by the River East Emerging Leaders (R.E.E.L.), an organization that seeks to serve residents living in Wards 7 and 8, with focus on Anacostia, there was a discussion held about redevelopment and gentrification.  The meeting’s moderator asked can one occur without the other taking place.

Many attendees were vocal, but one resident of Barry Farms housing development said that while she understands the need to redevelop the housing development, she is concerned that once it is redeveloped will current residents be asked to rejoin the community or pushed out for good.

Harriet Tregoning from the District’s Office of Planning was there and offered three ways that people can plan for the “change” of development or redevelopment.  She said people should begin organizing now with neighbored to help educate the community, devise a plan of what the neighborhood wants and needs to decide what projects should come into the community and think about entrepreneurship intently.  Often when new developments come into a community a new opportunity arises that residents need and an entrepreneur can directly benefit from this need, but not if residents are not forward thinking about thee needs.

Former Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen was in attendance and said her vision for Ward 8 and all neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River is to “respect what has been here and improve the things that can be improved.”  She said, “The community needs to work together to plan for the future generations and think about where we want our children and great-grandchildren to be.”

With the surplus the city is experiencing, only time will truly tell if money will go into redeveloping needy communities and if it happens this question about gentrification is likely to arise.  Whether there’s a solid middle ground will depend on the planning and community involvement.

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